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Iranian Missiles Missed Targets In Northern Iraq; CNN Gets Exclusive Look At Wildfires From The Air; Trump: No Need To Rely On Middle East For Oil; Two Rockets Land In Baghdad's Heavily Fortified Green Zone; Two GOP Senators Blast Administration After Iran Briefing; Prince Harry and Meghan Step Back From Senior Roles; Questions Surround Ukraine Plane Crash in Iran. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): She is indeed. I'm Michael Holmes from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

Ahead this hour on the program, promising sanctions instead of striking back. Donald Trump tamps down the rhetoric after the Iranian missile attacks on bases housing U.S. military troops in Iraq.

CHURCH: Investigators reveal new details about the final moments of the Ukrainian plane that went down shortly after takeoff from Tehran.

HOLMES: Also ahead, Harry and Meghan stunned the royal family, announcing they're going to spend less time in their high-profile roles and more time in North America.

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CHURCH: And we begin with new details about just how close the U.S. was to launching an attack on Iran, about 24 hours ago. Administration officials tell CNN even a single American casualty from Tehran's missile strikes on bases in Iraq would have resulted in a U.S. military response.

HOLMES: Instead, as we now know, the strikes left only moderate damage and no casualties. Iraq's prime minister says his country got advanced notice of the strikes and then warned the U.S.

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TRUMP: All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases. Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.

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HOLMES: Mr. Trump says he will impose some new sanctions on Iran but some U.S. lawmakers are concerned about the president's strategy or lack thereof.

CHURCH: Even two Republican senators who got a classified briefing from U.S. military leaders say they were not convinced Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on American troops.

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SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate. To come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran, it's un- American. It's unconstitutional. And it's wrong.

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HOLMES: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says lawmakers will vote in the coming day on a war powers resolution, which is meant to limit the president's ability to use military force in Iran.

And CNN has this story covered throughout the region. We've got correspondent Jomana Karadsheh, live this morning in Baghdad. International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

CHURCH: So first let's go to Baghdad.

Jomana, the U.S. says there was a new rocket attack aimed at the green zone in Baghdad. Talk to us about that and, of course, the mood of Iraqis caught in the middle of these battles playing out on their soil.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, late last night, Rosemary, according to the Iraqi military, two rockets struck the green zone in central Baghdad. That is, of course, where the U.S. embassy is.

How we did hear the sirens here at the U.S. embassy. Now this is not unusual. There have been several attacks, especially in recent days. There are no casualties reported in these attacks and no one has claimed responsibility.

But it is believed that this is the work of Iranian-backed proxies on the ground. What is interesting about this attack is the timing of it. This is coming, you know, that same evening where we saw this crisis possibly heading towards de-escalation coming after President Trump's address.

But in that address by President Trump, he did not really talk about the U.S. military presence here in Iraq. And as we have seen, this has become the central issue here over the past week with the political -- the Shia political parties here, the Iranian-backed proxy groups, all coming out and saying they now want the government to work on getting U.S. forces out of the country.

And there was no clarity from the U.S. on what they're doing with this. All we've heard in recent days is threats from President Trump, saying that if Iraq does push U.S. forces out in an unfriendly way, as he put it.

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KARADSHEH: He's threatened them with sanctions. So it would seem that this may have been, this rocket attack, may be a message from these groups, saying that they are keeping an eye on what the U.S. is going to do.

We have heard statements from them coming out, you know, some of the groups like Kataib Hezbollah, whose leader was killed in that U.S. strike last week, saying right now basically they're toning things down. They're calling on their followers to be patient, they say.

But at the same time, they are threatening, they are saying that they have not -- they will continue to push for U.S. forces to leave the country. And if they do not, if there is any attempts to stall, they say, they will be considering U.S. forces as occupiers here, treating them as such.

And basically threatening to take this back to that all-out conflict between these Iranian-backed groups and the U.S. military as we saw in -- during the years of the U.S. occupation here.

And, you know, when you talk to people on the ground, Rosemary, they know that this is not over. No matter what is going on, you know, between Iran and the United States, they still feel that their country is trapped in the middle between these two allies and any possible conflict they're really concerned is going to play out here in Iraq.

Whether it is between Iran and the U.S. or Iranian proxies and the United States -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Jomana Karadsheh bringing us that live report from Baghdad. Many thanks.

HOLMES: All right. Let's turn our attention now to the Saudi capital Riyadh. That's where we find our Nic Robertson.

The dance continues in a way. More sanctions.

Has it changed in any meaningful way or do you see more chapters of this ahead?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: For sure there are more chapters.

One of the key questions is, does Tehran feel the game has changed?

If we think about what happened here, you know, United States maximum pressure sanctions, put additional sanctions on Iran. Iran's response, strike tankers in the Gulf. More sanctions, Iran's response, strike the Saudi oil facilities here, more sanctions were put on.

Iran's response was to increase, you know, the sort of message to proxies in Iraq to target U.S. forces there. It eventually gets to the point where the United States kills Qasem Soleimani, a massive spike in ratcheting up and destabilizing of the situation.

Iran's response comes and then now President Trump says, yes, he thinks potentially Iran wants to de-escalate and there's an off-ramp. But then he puts more sanctions on Iran. So we're sort of back to square one.

How does Iran respond to the United States applying more sanctions?

And I think the jury is out on that. A lot of people would urge caution and that's the way certainly it's felt in the Saudi capital here.

Will Iran use its proxies again to exert its -- its anger or its frustration at the -- its ongoing sort of global isolation and the impact on its economy by calling on its proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, to fire more ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia as they have done in the past?

So that remains a concern. I think at the moment, you know, while everyone here has been calling for de-escalation and restraint -- and we're now seeing that -- the question is, how long will it last before the next, you know, trigger point?

Where the question will then be called again, how does the United States respond to that?

Does it go automatically to escalating to military action?

And, again, the dangers of tipping the region into widespread war. So you know, sitting in the capital, Riyadh, here calm, yes; far from out of the woods yet.

HOLMES: Absolutely. Nic, good to see you. Nic Robertson there in Riyadh for us.

CHURCH: Well, Senate Democrats and two key Republicans were furious after the classified briefing we mentioned a little earlier. It was meant to provide details on why the strike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was ordered.

HOLMES: Yes, but two Republican senators said that's not what they got. They said the Trump administration failed to provide evidence that Iran was planning an imminent attack against the U.S., which was the justification for it. They also dismissed Congress' role in deciding to take military action.

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LEE: They left after 75 minutes. Now I understand these are busy people. They've got a lot of demands on their time. They're appearing before a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might undertake.

And they had to leave after 75 minutes while they're in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public. I find that absolutely insane.

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SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The argument has been made that the Use of Authorization of Force voted on in 2002 to go to war with Saddam Hussein and his government is justification for anything they want to do in Iraq today, including killing an Iranian general.

I see no way in the world you could logically argue that an authorization to have war with Saddam Hussein has anything to do with having war with people currently in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: So let's bring in CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer.

Good to have you with us.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: Two key Republican senators furious about the classified intelligence briefing. One calling it the worst briefing he's ever had.

What might their skepticism of the Trump administration's justification for the killing of Qasem Soleimani have on other Republicans and on Thursday's House vote on the war powers resolution?

ZELIZER: Well, I don't think it's going to have much. I think this is a contained rebellion. I do think both of these members are pretty upset with how this was handled. Many Republicans had no interest in a potential war with Iran.

But in general, after you hear criticism like this, the pattern has been Republicans fall in line. And it's unclear you're going to get a huge number of votes to restrict the president's war power. So I think it might just be limited to a chorus of two or maybe three or four by the end of the week.

CHURCH: So let's look at that authority of the president to give the order to kill Soleimani without any reference to Congress.

What role should those lawmakers have played in approving such military action?

ZELIZER: Well, theoretically, they should have a much bigger role. But in the United States since 1950 when we went to war with Korea, the presidents have been deploying troops and launching missile strikes without much congressional consultation.

So this is part of a very long pattern and, as we see in many instances, President Trump exploits these aspects of our politics and does things in even more aggressive fashion. But if we go back to the Constitution, Congress should be part of these kinds of vital decisions.

CHURCH: So why doesn't the Trump administration go ahead and provide lawmakers with the evidence they need to prove that Soleimani was, indeed, preparing imminent attacks?

ZELIZER: Well, as of now, it's not clear that that evidence exists. And what we don't know if this is an instance of an executive just flexing power and saying I don't need to consult with Congress or it's more like 2003, when President Bush went to war with Iraq and the evidence wasn't actually there.

And I think many Democrats are suspicious it's the latter and that the claims were just a justification for a strike that the president wanted to conduct anyway.

CHURCH: And, of course, it has to be said that relief was felt all around the world when President Trump made his decision Wednesday to step back from the brink and de-escalate tensions with Iran.

What was your take of what he said, how he delivered that and, of course, his decision to impose additional sanctions on Iran rather than strike back?

ZELIZER: Well, the bigger news that -- as you say, there is no escalating conflict -- is a relief to everyone, both parties, all Americans and obviously in Iran and all over the world. No one wants a war.

But the message was really odd. I mean, part of it was attacking President Obama, based on spurious claims about where the money came from that built the bombs. Part of it was based on other kinds of, you know, misleading information.

So it was still an odd Trump message but, in the end, he said he's open to a more peaceful future and I think everyone just breathed a sigh of relief that someone, somehow brought this to a level of containment rather than war.

CHURCH: And, of course, we all know that this may be the end of any outright conflict like this. But the tensions still exist. The initial problems between the United States and Iran have not gone away.

What needs to happen going forward?

ZELIZER: Well, it might actually get worse. U.S. troops might be leaving Iraq. Iran in some ways is now free to do whatever it wants. There no nuclear agreement, really, that anyone is abiding to, so the fear is that it's actually going to get worse, that Iran comes out of this feeling emboldened rather than weaker. And it's not clear that the killing changed the fundamental dynamics of the region. So we don't know what happens. I think we're pretty much in the same place a few days ago before this started in terms of the tension between the two powers.

CHURCH: Julian Zelizer, we always appreciate your perspective and analysis. Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

[02:15:00]

HOLMES: We are following breaking news this hour. Iran saying that that Ukrainian airliner which crashed near Tehran was on fire before it came down.

CHURCH: An initial report also indicates the plane changed direction because of an unknown problem and then attempted to turn back towards the airport. The cause of the crash remains unclear at this point.

HOLMES: Now Iran says that it recovered the plane's flight data recorders but says it will not give the U.S. manufacturer, Boeing, access to the black boxes. The plane went down hours after Iran, of course, fired missiles into Iraqi bases, where U.S. troops are stationed. Let's go to Scott McLean on the line from Kiev.

Tell us more about what you're hearing there.

And Iran refusing to hand over those flight data recorders from the crash site, what does that mean from Kiev's point of view?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it might make it a much more difficult investigation or at least may raise questions as to whether or not the Iranians can truly do a thorough investigation.

That said, the Ukrainians are very involved, in fact, as is the president today, announced that 45 experts, investigators had touched down in Tehran in order to get started with their investigation as to what exactly happened, to try to identify some of the bodies and repatriate some of them back to the Ukraine.

Of course, there were 11 victims from this country; nine of them were crew members. This seems to be a much bigger tragedy for Canadians and Iranians. Most of the people, the vast majority of people on that flight, were supposed to connect for Kiev en route to Toronto or other destinations in Canada.

Obviously there are no quick answers for these families. I'm actually just standing outside of a memorial that's been set up inside of the airport here in Kiev and there is quite a mountain, a heap of flowers.

The president was here earlier on this morning to pay his respects. There seems to be a steady stream of people coming. But obviously, as I said, no easy answers as to what exactly happened.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. Keep an eye on it for us. Scott, thank you. Scott McLean there in Kiev.

CHURCH: Well, taking a step back, the announcement from Prince Harry and his wife even took their family by surprise. We'll have that.

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CHURCH: Well, Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are defining new roles for themselves and apparently it was news to the rest of the royal family.

HOLMES: Oops. Yes, they've announced they're stepping back from their senior roles in the monarchy and plan to become financially independent. That's something. They also plan to divide their time between the U.K. and North America.

CHURCH: So our Anna Stewart joins us now from Buckingham Palace with all the details on this.

So how is this publicly unfolding?

And, of course, we learned that the royal family hadn't been consulted.

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, funnily enough, I think that's actually the big story of the day, not just the shock statement itself but the fact that the queen herself, the palace seems to be fairly shocked.

I want to read you an excerpt of the statement.

They said, "We understand the desire to take a different approach but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."

Let me show you some of the front pages we have this morning. We have the "Daily Mirror." "They didn't even tell the queen." We have the "Daily Mail." "Queen's furious, Harry and Meghan say we quit."

And we have, of course, "The Sun." "Megxit, civil war, Harry and Meg quit the royals. Queen said" -- sorry -- "Queen sad and Charles and Wills furious."

So the tabloids having a bit of a field day. These are all, of course, the newspapers that Harry and Meghan have had issues with. They're both suing several of them. As part of their statement, they also announced they will have a new relationship with the press. They will hand-pick the press they want to speak to, that they want to cover their events in the future -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: So Anna, the interesting part to this is, it is a case of wanting the best of both worlds, is it not? There have been a few critics suggesting that you really can't take all the adoration and all of the public following like this and then want to withdraw at the same time.

STEWART: Yes, of course. If the couple thought that this would be a way of getting rid of the media attention and rid of the criticism, they would be wrong because there's plenty of, you know, the cake and eat it sort of criticism going around today.

How can they be financially independent?

Currently around 5 percent of their income is from the taxpayer; 95 percent is from Prince Charles and his estate. Surely they will still rely on that. That's what we expect.

Any kinds of jobs or roles they have in the future, people will say they only have as their roles as their significance as being royals. So there will be this criticism. And a lot of people just want to know a little bit more.

Where are they going to base themselves?

They said between the U.K. and North America.

Does that mean California near the Duchess of Sussex's family?

Does that mean Canada, where they just had a six-week break?

So the shock raising more questions than answers right now.

CHURCH: Why would Harry and Meghan ambush the queen like this?

I'm sure it's not the smartest thing to do.

STEWART: It's a tricky one, isn't it?

I mean, last year we knew, when Prince Harry spoke to ITV, a British broadcaster, he mentioned the rumored rift with Prince William and he said they were on very different paths.

We know there has been a turbulent relationship within the royal family itself. I would say the statement we got from Buckingham Palace is unprecedented. Normally they're very in control of the narrative.

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STEWART: It felt certainly from my perspective that the palace really didn't know. And from what we understand, the couple hadn't told any members of the royal family they were planning to make this statement last night.

So a true shock. It would be for any family, a sudden announcement to the world for any family, a sudden announcement to the world that you're making such a massive change and to do it in such a public way.

CHURCH: Surprising the family and the world. Anna Stewart, many thanks to you for bringing us all the details on that. Appreciate it.

Well, some U.S. officials say Iran just wanted to send a message with its missile strikes and missed U.S. troops on purpose. We will explore that theory just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.

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HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church.

Donald Trump says Iran appears to be standing down after its missile attacks on Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops. He addressed the nation on Wednesday, making clear that any further provocation from Iran would have severe consequences.

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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Administration officials say even a single U.S. casualty from Iran's missile attacks would have resulted in a U.S. military response. For now, though, the president says he will be imposing punishing new sanctions on Tehran, more sanctions. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley say Iran intended to kill Americans with the missile strikes but others in the administration is suggesting the strikes avoided U.S. targets on purpose and we're only meant to send a message.

CHURCH: CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is in Erbil in northern Iraq. Iran targeted that city as well as Al-Asad Air Base in central Iraq, causing moderate damage but no casualties.

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CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was extremely eerie to be flying into Erbil at night. The airport was essentially deserted. Ours was one of the only flight that was not canceled because one of the missiles that fell in Erbil actually landed within the perimeter of the airport.

This is obviously extremely important place strategically for the U.S. It is the heart of the fight against ISIS. A lot of Special Forces operatives working in and around this area. That fight is now frozen. But we did notice in our hotel, roughly 100, if not more U.S. military contractors. They had essentially been evacuated from a places like Baghdad also from the Balad Air Base amid fears of continuing attacks.

The assumption was that or bill was the safe place to send people but Iran sending a powerful message last night that no place is essentially beyond the reach or completely secure from the reach of their missiles.

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HOLMES: Now, if things between the U.S. and Iran worsen again, and we all hope they do not, you just need to have a glance at this map to see a target-rich environment for Iran, or its many proxies. Now, the U.S. has tens of thousands of troops in the region. You've got 12,000 in Afghanistan alone. And despite his campaign promise to bring American forces home, President Trump is actually sending thousands more, a lot of them on their way as we speak.

And you got Kuwait over here, you've got 13,000 troops there. Now that's a key hub of goes for the U.S. often used as a staging ground for deployments into Iraq and into Syria. And then you've got Bahrain. Bahrain is hosted American forces since World War Two, there's now 7,000 troops there. And the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia has always been controversial, of course, going back to the Gulf War. It's controversial in the U.S., it's controversial in the kingdom, which currently hosts 3,000 troops.

Now, joining us now from Istanbul to discuss the latest events of the last few days. Matthew Bryza. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, now a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us. Iran plays a long game. It always has. What is the likelihood that they got their public attack out of the way but have more longer-term plans in hand to hit the Americans in retaliation for Soleimani's death months from now, perhaps attacks with plausible deniability? What's your take?

MATTHEW BRYZA, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AZERBAIJAN: And thanks for having me, Michael. I think you're right on target. This -- all the signals that Iran has sent in the aftermath of this attack, even the nature of the attack itself, having caused zero casualties and minor damage, that suggests that this was a classic example of very good effective diplomatic signaling forces a diplomatic tool.

The Iranian side used it in a measured way, and then the foreign minister came out immediately and said this was a proportionate response, essentially an eye for an eye response, military and military, and that Iran does not wish to escalate and does not want war. That is a very clear and powerful signal. And I believe that this is the end of this round.

That said, of course, Iran retains proxy forces all throughout not only the Middle East, but all around the world. Remember years ago, a couple decades ago, they sponsored an attack on a synagogue in Buenos Aires, Argentina. So, I think all those plans as part of the overall Iranian strategy will continue, there will be attacks, but they'll be attacks as part of a broader strategy, I think, rather than as a tit for tat response to the assassination of Soleimani.

HOLMES: Is it -- is it fair to say this stepping back from the brink? I mean, quite apart from just the U.S. and Iran dynamic. It's not -- in the real world, it's not going to change Iran's activities in terms of regional influence, military activity. I mean, they've got tentacles in all kinds of regional events. That doesn't go away since this current crisis is diffused for now surely.

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BRYZA: Absolutely not. The so-called axis of resistance is the arrangement diplomatic, military, even terrorist arrangement Iran has put together stretching from Iran, across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, all the way to the Mediterranean, maintaining that, using that is a fundamental national security interest of Iran. And to be able to continue doing that, Iran wants to see U.S. troops out of the Middle East, which is the demand it's been pushing in Iraq with that vote by the Shia members of the Iraqi parliament on Sunday suggesting us should leave.

The U.S. now, however, has shifted its tone. President Trump, he -- of course, he has an objective in reducing that axis of resistance. But yesterday's speech in which he really did step back, return the focus to what I believe his primary goal with regard to Iran is. That's to get back to the negotiating table and reach an agreement as the great deal maker that he can claim is better than that of Barack Obama. Do that, he's got to de-escalate and de-emphasize the resistance to this Iranian --

HOLMES: And you make a good point there because, you know, Trump seems to always come back to Obama and blaming him for Iran's behavior. And usually what he says is untrue, saying the nuclear deal sparked Iranian aggression, increased substantially, I think he said. But under the nuclear deal, Iran was not firing rockets at U.S. basis and the nuclear program was on hold, of course.

The uptick in Iranian aggression came after the Trump administration pulled out. And Trump saying that the money that Iran got, it wasn't some gift. It was Iran's money and it was part of the deal. You know, so what do you make of that? It's always coming back to Obama and usually, it's not true when it comes to the Iran deal.

BRYZA: Yes, I think in general, in foreign affairs or in life, you know, people are loath to recognize their own faults and they like to push the blame on somebody else. That's clearly what President Trump is doing in this case. I mean, he's still -- you know, he's obsessed with all the Russia issues as well, because he thinks that undermines his own strength, his own legitimacy as a president.

So I think it's not fair to blame the Obama administration. However, to be fair, Iran was continuing attacks using its proxies and terrorist forces even after the nuclear deal was signed. But as you just said, Michael, these were not attacks against U.S. forces. And that uptick, of course, happened after President Trump took that first step, and withdrew from the JCPOA and provoked these responses by Iran.

But that said, let's think back to since last May or so when there were a series of Iranian attacks against U.S. interests. President Trump showed remarkable restraint. He showed he does not want to go to war, he wants to get to the negotiating table, and as we now see, his red line is killing Americans. HOLMES: Yes, yes. I think during the time of the Iran deal, when the

U.S. was in it, not a single rocket was fired at U.S. forces. And I think that's significant. Matthew Bryza, thank you so much. Former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, great to get your expertise on this. Thank you.

BRYZA: Thank you, Micheal.

CHURCH: And we'll take a short break here. Still to come, and exclusive look at the bushfires in Australia as seen from above. And we learned why some of these smaller outbreaks are actually a bigger priority than the larger fires. Back in a moment with that.

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HOLMES: Welcome back. Communities ravaged by deadly bushfires in New South Wales. Australia will receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the state government to rebuild. The announcement came as the southeast and state of Victoria extends its state of disaster until Saturday.

CHURCH: And the death toll from the fires is now up to 27. And another bit of news that's alarming but not surprising, 2019 was officially Australia's hottest and driest year on record.

HOLMES: Now, the smoke has been so thick that helicopters used by emergency crews have been grounded at times. The choppers were back in the air on Wednesday. CNN's Anna Coren was on one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A break in the weather, visibility at 900 meters. This bill long-range helicopter was finally given clearance to fly. Onboard, Ian Jauncey, the Air Attack Supervisor for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

IAN JAUNCEY, AIR ATTACK SUPERVISOR, RURAL FIRE SERVICE: Because it's so smoky, I've got very little intel on exactly what the fire is doing. So I've been trying to just get some (INAUDIBLE) in the sky.

COREN: Since the border fire that cross from Victoria into New South Wales, rural three parts of the far south coast over the weekend decimating townships. Firefighters have been unable to get an aerial view of the monster they're battling until now.

With the front stretching more than 60 kilometers wide, it's burned all the way to the sea engulfing one of Eden's largest employers, the Woodchip Mill. But as the smoke billowed and will continue to for weeks, possibly months, this enormous woodpile nearby lies on touched, as does the Jetty.

The priority for firefighters isn't the massive blaze burning out of control, but rather the smaller fires that have jumped containment lines, posing new threats to homes and townships.

MICK KENNEDY, PILOT: There'd be a lot of hot, smoldering stuff near the edges of the fire there. Since a hot, dry wind comes it'll activate the fire again and it (INAUDIBLE). We're now airborne over the top of the Eden Township. Visibility has been better down here. Hopefully, we can go ahead and place (INAUDIBLE) from here.

COREN: This is the first time Rural Fire Service has been able to take the sky here in the far south coast of New South Wales to assess the full extent of the fire damage. The smoke has just been too thick grounding all aircraft for days. All those waterbombing aircraft had just been activated allowing them to hit those fires hotspots as much as possible before conditions deteriorate.

[02:45:25]

Two Blackhawk soon appear as Ian and pilot Mick Kennedy directed them to nearby dams to fill up their 3,000-liter buckets with water and extinguish identified hotspots. But it was Georgia Peach, the Erickson Skycrane that made the biggest impact.

Sucking up 9,800 liters of seawater at a time, she got to work dousing the flames. Up to two hours in the air, it was back to base to refuel before hitting out again.

JAUNCEY: The fire from my opinion is a bit closer than what I originally thought from Eden. Some of it I will continue to be monitoring from (INAUDIBLE)

COREN: With the very first for the specialized pilots who've been part of the aerial attack and his ongoing bushfire crisis, there's nowhere else they want to be.

KENNEDY: No one likes to see houses burn, no one likes to see property or life loss. But the guys are here, they just want to help. I just want to get the work.

COREN: Anna Coren CNN Merimbula, New South Wales, Australia.

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CHURCH: Well, Carlos Ghosn is a wanted man, but he's hardly laying low. More than a week after his daring and mysterious escaped from Japan, the former minister and CEO was out in front of the cameras giving a news conference in Lebanon.

HOLMES: He claims his arrest in Tokyo and the charges of financial wrongdoing against him were all part of a plot to oust him as head of Nissan Renault. Ghosn says he's not running from justice, he's fleeing injustice and he wants to clear his name.

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CARLOS GHOSN, FORMER CEO, NISSAN: I wouldn't be ready to stand trial anywhere where I think I can have a fair trial, anywhere. But the only reason for which -- if I was -- if somebody could guarantee to me, which was not the case of my lawyers, when I asked my lawyers many times, they would tell me that in Japan, will I have a fair trial, they were very embarrassed. They told me, we're going to do everything for you to have a fair trial. And they kept saying this to me, which worried me a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: And after that news conference, Ghosn sat down with CNN's Richard Quest for an interview and spoke more about his escape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The moment the plane is in international space and you pretty much know it's going to land in Lebanon, what was that moment like?

GHOSN: Well, as you know, it was not going to land in Lebanon, it was going to land somewhere else. But I felt --

QUEST: But then after that.

GHOSN: I felt relieved. I felt relieved. Yes, I felt relieved. I felt free. And you know the first thought I said is finally I'm going to be able to see my wife. That's what I first thought.

QUEST: I'm just going to go for this and hope that you'll give me an answer. What was it like in the packing case?

GHOSN: No comment. Look, freedom, freedom, no matter the way it happens is always sweet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Interpol has put out a red notice that Ghosn is wanted by Japanese police and he has been summoned to face questioning about that in Lebanon on Thursday. A bold claim from the president, President Trump on energy independence. Ahead, a closer look at whether the U.S. no longer needs oil from the Middle East.

[02:50:00]

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HOLMES: As President Trump backed away from further military action against Iran, he also laid out his vision for a revised U.S. role in the Middle East.

CHURCH: He claimed America no longer needs oil from the Middle East, affect the changes Washington's approach to the region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last three years, under my leadership, our economy is stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence. These historic accomplishment shades our strategic priorities. These are accomplishments that nobody thought were possible. We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent and we do not need Middle East oil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Well, for more on this, John Defterios joins us now from Abu Dhabi. Good to see you, John. So, President Trump claiming the U.S. has energy independence. True or false?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: I would say false, but we're on the path to greater independence. How's that, Rosemary? In fact, we're much better off in the United States than we were 20 years ago when we're importing about half of total supplies. But it is the number one producer in the world. Crude oil 13 million barrels, much, much more if you add all the different products.

But the problem is for the United States, it consumes about 20 million barrels a day, so it's not independent. And here are the real numbers from the Middle East. It hovered around two million barrels a day of imports from this part of the world, and that's dropped to around a million barrels a day in 2019.

The two big suppliers, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. No surprise we have troops there. And also often overlooked in the outside world, is the fact that Saudi Arabia owns the largest refinery in the United States and Port Arthur, Texas. So the bond between the United States and the Arab world remains quite strong.

Now, President Trump is making this illusion and nobody really talks about it too much. It is a powerful player when it comes to natural gas right now and shipping the LNG all around the world. It's competing against Russia, Qatar, and Australia. And this is the reason that President Trump has said he doesn't like the pipelines connecting into the European Union or pipelines going from Russia to China as well because he wants a market for that LNG.

So you can make those claims right now, the U.S. has come a long way because of the U.S. shale boom, but it's not independent yet, although it has changed the makeup and the geopolitics of energy around the world.

[02:55:36]

CHURCH: Thanks for putting a straight on that. John Defterios with the very latest from Abu Dhabi, many thanks.

HOLMES: And that'll do it for this hour. Thanks for being with us. I'm Michael Holmes.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church. We will be back with another hour of news next here on CNN.

HOLMES: Not going home yet.

CHURCH: Stick around.

HOLMES: Be right back.

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CHURCH: Standing down.

END